Fort Worth, Texas,
15:21 PM

Spike in Severe Child Abuse Cases Likely Result of COVID-19


This article was updated on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, to reflect the latest statistics and an additional quote from Dr. Coffman.

Doctors at Cook Children’s believe the stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic are linked to nine cases of severe child abuse seen at the hospital since March 17, 2020. Three of those children have died. Typically, Cook Children’s sees this many such cases over the course of a month

All of the children admitted were 4 years old and under.

"We usually only average six deaths from abuse a year at Cook Children's and now we've had two children die on the same day," said Jamye Coffman, medical director of the Cook Children’s Center for Prevention and Child Abuse and Neglect and the CARE team​. "This is an issue related to stress. We are seeing it from all over from urban area to more rural counties."

For the providers who take care of these children, the news of this abuse didn’t come as a total surprise. During the recession in 2008/2009, Cook Children’s saw the leading cause of death from trauma change from motor vehicle crashes to abusive head trauma.

“We knew an increase in abuse was going to occur, but this happened faster than we ever imagined,” said Christi Thornhill, director of the Trauma Program, the CARE team and Fostering Health at Cook Children’s. “I mean this happened in a week and these are really bad abuse cases.”

Dr. Coffman believes these unprecedented times have simply become too much for some parents.

“People have so much increased stress right now,” Dr. Coffman said. “They’ve got financial stress. Some people lost their job or worried about keeping their current job. They lost their income. You’ve got stress from being overcrowded. Everyone’s cooped up together. They feel like they can’t get away from each other. These stressors can lead to abuse.”

Dr. Coffman said another factor is that people can’t get away from COVID-19 news. It’s on TV and social media constantly.

It’s more difficult to take your child to a grandparent or neighbor’s house right now. Kids aren’t going to school to give their parents some away time.

So what do you do now?

“Most of us know family members or neighbors we can reach out to when we know that maybe this is high stress situation,” Dr. Coffman said. “I think just maintaining some human connection is extremely important so people don’t feel isolated or people don’t feel as alone, which may reduce some of the anxiety and frustration. It may even be a phone call to somebody to say, ‘I’m having a hard time’ or even ‘my kids are driving me nuts.’”

Dr. Coffman emphasizes it’s normal to feel more frustrated because of the unknown and uncertain times, but when you feel frustrated, it’s Ok to ask for help or reach out and ask for advice.

"Stress is not an excuse for abusing your child, but rather we hope that caregivers can recognize their stress and ask for help rather than accelerate dangerous behaviors, and that others can recognize and intervene as well," Dr. Coffman added. offers a resource for both parents and children alike during this time. For this article, we called this organization. We were told they are currently available to help and welcome any phone calls. The National Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453.

Thornhill encourages people to get involved during this difficult time. The number one reporter of child abuse continues to be teachers, but kids aren’t seeing them right now.

“We worry about who will see abuse and report it right now,” Thornhill said. “That’s where we need neighbors and other family members to pay attention. If you hear the child next door screaming, call for help. All of us need to be involved. As much as most of us don’t want to, we all must make it our business.”

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, please contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS) toll free at 1-800-252-5400, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may also file a report using the secure TDFPS website. Reports made through this website take up to 24 hours to process. The Texas Abuse Hotline is 1-800-252-5400.

For more resources:


Comments 1 - 4 (4)
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I had not thought about this but I can see how it can happen. The older kids can usually entertain them selves, but the little tykes don’t do that and they don’t understand how why they can’t do the things they normally get to do. They don’t understand that Mommy and Daddy are highly stressed and need alone time.
Kathy Daniel
Please don't stay silent. If you see abuse report it!!
rosemary erstad
This is so tragic. Parents so stressed they take it out on their children. Turn off the TV and listen to the quiet. Take deep breaths. Do some stretches. Close your eyes and construct in your mind a "safe place" where you can retreat when you need it. Mine is a beach scene in which I imagine myself arriving at my favorite beach alone in my car. I open the trunk and remove a yellow plastic basket and a folding chair. There is a slight incline from my car to the top of the sand dune and finally, there it is! The Atlantic Ocean! I descend to the sandy area and set up camp. I smell the salt air, I hear the waves lapping against the shore. I feel the soft breeze on my skin. I settle into the chair and apply tanning lotion to my exposed skin, inhaling the coconut aroma. Finally I open a book and begin my journey into the author's story. This works very well for me since I'm a beach lover. You're welcome to borrow it if you are also. If not, construct your own. Finally, only touch your child with love.
Reginald Carter
Thanks for the information. This is heartbreaking but true.